Friday, December 31, 2021

2021 Reading in Review


This year, for the first time ever, I didn't count picture books, board books, or books for beginning readers toward my Goodreads goal, and I set myself the challenge of reading exactly 200 books, neither more nor less. I reached that goal just a few days before the end of the year and decided to stop reading rather than go over 200. 

I averaged 16 books per month, with the highest number (20) read in October and the smallest number (13) read in February. 

Here is the breakdown of books by intended audience, accompanied by my annual pie chart:

  • 63.5% adult (127 books:  33 romance, including 6 Regency romances; 35 mysteries or thrillers, including 5 cozy mysteries; 29 nonfiction, 16 regular fiction, 7 classics, 4 fantasy, 2 science fiction, 1 poetry)
  • 31% middle grade (62 books: 26 realistic fiction, 16 fantasy, 11 historical fiction, 4 nonfiction, 4 mysteries, 1 adventure)
  • 5.5% YA (11 books: 4 realistic fiction, 2 romances, 2 nonfiction, 1 short story collection, and 1 historical fiction)

Among these 200 books there were: 
  • 29 read-alouds with my kids 
  • 42 children's and YA titles from our home library
  • 37 books from my physical TBR
  • 18 books from my digital TBR 
  • 100 books that I read at least partly in audio format
  • 100 books that I read exclusively with my eyes


My goals for 2021 wound up being kind of a bust, but that hasn't necessarily turned out to be a bad thing. Here's a recap of what my goals were and a quick summary of how each one worked out. 

  • Goal #1: Stop tracking picture books and board books.
    This was surprisingly easy for me to do. I did still review a few of the picture books that were sent to me by publishers, but I didn't add a read date for them on Goodreads to prevent them from being added to my challenge number. I read so many picture books in a week, it's just a relief not to have keep track of them anymore.
  • Goal #2: Read exactly 200 books, and no more.
    I accomplished this, and I think it was good for me to give myself permission to not always be reading. I was able to listen to podcasts or take some time to write without feeling like I was supposed to be reading. For 2022, I'm going to lowball my Goodreads challenge number and then just not worry about the numbers.
  • Goal #3: Read 50 e-books.
    Goal #4: Cut back on audiobooks.
    These two goals kind of show how obsessed I was with format last year. As this year wore on, though, I realized that I like the freedom to switch back and forth between formats. A good number of books I read this year were titles that I started in ebook format and finished on audio, or vice versa.  I still like to make a note when I listen to even part of the audio because I like to keep track of narrators that I like and things like that, but the breakdown by format just isn't something I feel the need to focus on going forward.
  • Goal #5: Keep up with Goodreads reviews.
    I think I stuck with this longer in 2021 than I did in 2020, but I still wasn't perfect. I'm not putting this goal on my list for 2022 but I will still try to keep my Goodreads up to date if I can.
  • Goal #6: Write down more quotes from books.
    I gave up on writing these down pretty early on. I have added some quotes to my Goodreads, and in this season of my life, that's probably the best I'm going to do.
  • Goal #7: Host a read-a-thon.
    I have learned that it's just not in the cards for be any kind of leader in the bookish world. I'm perfectly happy to let other people host and will be sticking with that for the future. This read-a-thon didn't happen, and I'm not disappointed.
  • Goal #8: Read the Bible in a year.
    I'm almost done with this, but most likely I'll actually finish a day or two into the new year. It was difficult to commit to listening daily, but I was always able to catch up and I really enjoyed having explanations from a priest to accompany Scripture. 
  • Goal #9: Fill in Literary Listopia journal. 
    I looked at this a few times, but I felt like I couldn't come up with anything to add to each list. I'm still planning to use it, just trying to figure out how. 
  • Goal #10: Write 1200 words per week. 
    When I set this goal, I said that I hoped to have written 62, 400 words by the end of 2021. I basically didn't write a single word until November, when I did NaNoWriMo, but then I did a writing prompt challenge in December and now I'm less than 2000 words away from that goal. Clearly, I need to be motivated by something other than word count. I'm working on a more practical 2022 goal.


I only planned to do two challenges in 2021: the Modern Mrs. Darcy create-your-own challenge and the Unread Shelf Project. The host of the Unread Shelf kind of abandoned the challenge after a few months, so I decided not to continue with it. I did stick with my self-created Modern Mrs. Darcy challenge and  I mostly enjoyed it. These are the titles I read for it: 

  • Three Newbery Award winners: When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller; Sounder by William Armstrong; The 21 Balloons by William Pene du Bois 
  • Three books that are the last/most recent in a series: The Love of Friends by Nancy Bond; The Heart of the Family by Elizabeth Goudge; Majesty by Katharine McGee
  • Three books of more than 500 pages: Heart and Soul by Maeve Binchy; Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry; Fox's Earth by Anne Rivers Siddons
  • Three books by the same author: The Late Show by Michael Connelly; The Black Echo by Michael Connelly;  Dark Sacred Night by Michael Connelly
  • Three audiobooks with the same narrator:  The Duke and I by Julia Quinn; The Viscount Who Loved Me by Julia Quinn; An Offer from a Gentleman by Julia Quinn
  • Three Catholic nonfiction books: Mother Angelica by Raymond Arroyo; Be Bold in the Broken by Mary Lenaburg; Motherhood Redeemed by Kimberly Cook
  • Three general nonfiction books: Romance is My Day Job by Patience Bloom; Upstairs at the White House by J.B. West; And Then They Stopped Talking to Me by Judith Warren
  • Three books under 200 pages: Lucy Gayheart by Willa Cather; Dream Work by Mary Oliver; The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder
  • Three books about books or reading: How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster; We Are the Babysitters Club; Steeped in Stories by Mitali Perkins
  • Three books about writing: The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr; Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott; Save the Cat!: The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need by Blake Snyder
  • Three books published in 2021: Just Like That by Gary D. Schmidt;  Treasures: Visible and Invisible by Catholic Teen Books; Sunshine by Marion Dane Bauer
  • Three re-reads: Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien; Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh; Charlotte's Web by E.B. White 
Check back tomorrow for my 2022 reading plans! 

Book Review: 8 Notes to a Nobody by Cynthia T. Toney (2014)

8 Notes to a Nobody is the first book in a series by Cynthia T. Toney known as Bird Face. Fourteen-year-old Wendy Robichaud is navigating junior high school, and all the social difficulties that accompany it. Along with trying to figure who might be sending her anonymous post-it notes, she is also working on understanding how she fits into her peer group, her family, and the world at large. 

As I was reading, I kept thinking to myself that this book was basically the Alice series (by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor) for Christian kids. All the same heavy topics are covered here: divorce, friends growing apart, bullying, even suicide - but they are not used for shock value or to push the envelope. Instead, this book presents the reality of the challenges young teens face, and also promotes the idea that these difficulties are surmountable with the help of strong relationships with friends and family. There is a strong sense of hope throughout this book that makes it feel like a safe outlet for thinking about some of the dark issues that arise during adolescence.   

Like many people, I had a very difficult time in middle school, and I remember it was hard at the time to find books that reflected my experience and seemed to really understand it. This author really gets it. My girls are homeschooled and at the moment, still quite young and sheltered. Someday, though, when we want to have conversations about the difficulties many girls have growing up, this book is at the top of my list for broaching those topics. I'm very much looking forward to reading the rest of the series. 

Thursday, December 30, 2021

Book Review: Ginger Pye by Eleanor Estes (1951)

Ginger Pye is a Newbery-medal winning novel by Eleanor Estes, which follows the Pye children and their dog, Ginger, who mysteriously disappears shortly after they find her. 

I have read this book three times in my life and have yet to review it, mostly because I find it hard to put into words what I like about it. It's a long, slow-moving story about a dog, which sounds terrible, but is truly the opposite. The characters in this book are so well-crafted that they and their community come to life on the page. From siblings Rachel and Jerry to their three-year-old uncle, Benny, to the various townspeople who help them in their quest to find Ginger, the population of this book is memorable and delightful. The writing is beautiful, and it's just the kind of thing I loved as a kid: descriptions of people living their lives and doing ordinary things, thinking the kinds of thoughts that real kids think, and also, over time, solving a bit of a mystery. 

This is the perfect book for a young kid who reads far above grade level. The writing is beautiful and sophisticated but the content is truly appropriate for all ages and audiences. I've read the physical book and listened to the audiobook, and it's excellent in both formats. My kids, who have been as young as three when they've heard this story, have loved the Pye family, and have had no trouble following the details of the story, even if it is long. This is a Newbery favorite with definite staying power. 

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Book Review: The Fox Hole by Ivan Southall (1967)

The Fox Hole is a slim middle grade novel by Australian author Ivan Southall. Ken has come to stay with his aunt, uncle, and cousins. When he falls into a fox hole and makes a surprising and valuable discovery, Ken's uncle, Bob, struggles with two conflicting desires: the desire to rescue his nephew, and the desire to strike it rich.

This is a concise story that packs a bit of a punch. Ivan Southall not only portrays a realistic child character to whom most kids can relate, but he also uses his story to raise moral questions about how people, including adults, navigate their lives. At first the story feels like it could have been lifted from the everyday life of any child. but it takes a bit of a dark turn when it becomes clear that the uncle is having second thoughts about actually helping Ken. The author deftly handles the change in tone and also manages to write an ending that resolves most of the story's tension but still makes the reader think.

I think this book would pair nicely with something like On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer, which also explores the complicated feelings people sometimes have when things go wrong. I definitely want to read some more from Ivan Southall - in his economy of language, he reminds me very much of one of my favorite authors, Betsy Byars.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Read-At-Home Mom's Top 21 Books of 2021

I just finished my 200th book of 2021, and I'm ready to share my favorites of the year. This year,  I chose 21 titles across 5 categories. All of these were rated 5 stars on my Goodreads, and all are books I read for the first time in 2021. 

Nonfiction (3)

  • Letters to Myself from the End of the World by Emily Stimpson Chapman is one of the few books I bought new this year. The author is one of my favorite Catholics to follow on Instagram, and this book explains church teaching in a really beautiful way, as she addresses letters to her younger self on issues related to femininity, motherhood, marriage, and other important topics for women.
  • Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott is a classic guidebook for writers. I listened to the audio and found it inspiring on a practical level in a way that other books on writing are not. 
  • Upstairs at the White House: My Life with the First Ladies by J.B. West  is a fascinating memoir of the White House's chief usher's relationship to first ladies Eleanor Roosevelt, Bess Truman, Mamie Eisenhower, Jacqueline Kennedy, Ladybird Johnson, and (briefly) Pat Nixon. Without dwelling on anything salacious or scandalous, the book gives an inside into the personal lives of these woman, and sometimes their husbands. 

Children's and YA (4)

  • A Kind of Paradise by Amy Rebecca Tan is a middle grade novel about a young girl doing community service at the public library to make up for a poor decision she made at school. The library in the story reminded me so much of my old library in New York, and reading it made me so nostalgic. It captures everything good about small-town libraries.
  • Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang is a YA graphic novel in which the author, a teacher at a Catholic school, follows the school basketball team over the course of the season while also grappling with personal decisions regarding his career. It touches on issues of race, culture, religion, art, truth, etc. without becoming preachy. 
  • Treasures: Visible and Invisible from Catholic Teen Books is a collection of short stories related in some way to St. Patrick. The stories are printed in chronological order based on setting, beginning in ancient times and ending in a futuristic society. 
  • Just Like That by Gary D. Schmidt is another beautifully written middle grade novel by one of my favorite authors. It follows two kids: Meryl Lee, who flees to boarding school after the death of a classmate and Matt, who is on the run from dangerous figures from his past. I stayed up late into the night reading this book; it's so hard to put down. 

Romance (6)

  • Very Sincerely Yours by Kerry Winfrey is the story of Teddy, who works in a toy store and Everett, the host of a children's TV show. It's the coziest, sweetest book I've read in years and I actually bought a copy so I can re-read it. 
  • The Ex Talk by Rachel Lynn Solomon is set in the world of public radio. Two radio hosts pretend to be exes in order to give on-air advice to couples. As they pretend they dated in the past, they start wanting to date in the present. The writing is really strong, and I really loved the characters. 
  • All That Really Matters by Nicole Deese is a Christian romance novel about a YouTube influencer who wants to volunteer at a home for young adults aging out of foster care, but who doesn't realize the value of that work until she meets a man for whom it is a real passion. 
  • People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry is the story of two best friends who vacationed together every year of their lives until something happened to make things awkward. Then they go on vacation again, and fall in love. This book unexpectedly made me cry. 
  • Ornamental Graces by Carolyn Astfalk is the story of a relationship between Dan Malone, who has been recovering from some previous bad dating decisions and Emily, the sister of Dan's new friend, Robert. It follows the ups and downs of their friendship and eventual romantic relationship as they grapple with the serious consequences of Dan's bad choices.  
  • The Matzah Ball is about a Jewish woman who secretly writes Christmas books, but whose publisher now wants her to write a Hanukkah story. In trying to learn more about her own Jewish culture, she secures an invitation to the upcoming Matzah Ball from a former love interest from childhood. I loved the way this was written, especially the dialogue. 

Women's Fiction (3)

  • Heart and Soul by Maeve Binchy is a lengthy story about the people who work at a heart clinic. It's a cozy feel-good read filled with memorable characters. 
  • The Chicken Sisters by K.J. Dell'Antonia follows two sisters and the rival chicken businesses at the heart of their family. It involves a reality show, hoarding, family dynamics, and a little romance. I've already got this author's second book from Netgalley.
  • A Place Like Home by Rosamunde Pilcher is a posthumous collection of Pilcher's short stories. These made me realize that it's possible to write short, feel-good pieces and feel like a real writer.  

Other Fiction 

  • The Professor's House by Willa Cather is a beautifully written character-driven novel that comments on wealth, friendship, regret, and home. I plan to read it again in 2022. 
  • Lonesome Dove is a Western about a group of men driving cattle to Montana. It's long, but it went by so quickly and I didn't want to put it down. 
  • The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell is a dark but beautiful science fiction novel about a Jesuit priest who travels to space to meet an alien race and endures brutal suffering as a result. 
  • The Heart of the Family by Elizabeth Goudge is the third book in the Eliots of Damerosehay trilogy, and it was the perfect ending to the series. 
  • Rebecca by Daphne duMaurier is a classic suspense novel. I loved the way it was written, as well as the open-ended conclusion to the story.
Have you read any of my favorites? Which books did you love in 2021? 

Thursday, December 16, 2021

New Concept Books for Toddlers

My toddler twins destroy board books like nobody's business, so I'm thankful to have a supply of five new titles generously sent to us by publishers. These are all new or soon-to-be-published concept books in board book format. 

Hooray for Snowy Days! by Susan Kantor and Katya Longhi (Little Simon, 10/19/2021) is a cheerful rhyming book featuring big-eyed woodland creatures experiencing the joys of winter. They say hooray for jumping in snow, riding on sleds, building snowmen, and other traditional winter activities. The illustrator uses lots of color in the animals' clothing and in the mountains which serve as the backdrop for every scene. The result is that even the pages featuring snow and ice have a warm and cozy feel. 

Similarly The Very Hungry Caterpillar's First Winter (Penguin Random House, 1/4/2022) describes a variety of ways to spend a winter day: watching the snow, bundling up, jumping in slush, baking treats, etc. Each spread shows a cozy scene created in Eric Carle's signature style, and the Very Hungry Caterpillar can be found hiding in each illustration. This book highlights the fun side of wintry weather and is a great introduction for little ones who might soon experience snow for the first time. 

The Very Hungry Caterpillar Eats Breakfast (Penguin Random House, 12/14/2021)  uses familiar breakfast foods to introduce the concept of counting. Each spread features a different type of food: one cup of yogurt, two bowls of cereal, three pastries, etc. As in the original The Very Hungry Caterpillar, the title character makes a hole in each item as he eats through it. Little fingers can touch the holes as they count the foods on each page. In my family, we especially like the egg page because one of the six egg dishes featured is "egg-in-a-hole," which is a frequent breakfast favorite of my kids. All the food vocabulary in general is pretty unusual for a board book, and it provides some good opportunities for exposure to words young kids might not otherwise hear in everyday conversation. 

Learning with Llama Llama: Numbers (11/9/2021) counts backwards from 10 as Llama Llama cleans up his bedroom and then runs to give Mama Llama a hug. The style of the illustrations makes it a bit difficult to count each individual item, which is not ideal for actually teaching counting. As a quick slice-of-life story for toddlers, however, the book is a success. I would have gladly used this in a baby or toddler story time when I worked in the library. Learning with Llama Llama: Colors (12/21/2021) combines colors with food, as Llama Llama, in the mood to make art, creates a picture out of the fruits and vegetables on his plate. The rhyming text in this one falls a bit flat, as the rhymes aren't perfect all the time, and the rhythm is often awkward to read aloud. I'm also not personally thrilled with the idea of a book that encourages playing with food, though it's hard to know whether kids will imitate the behavior or not. 

Monday, December 13, 2021

Homeschool Update: Weeks of 11/29/21 and 12/6/21

A cold came through our house in the middle of last week, and we didn't do school for a few days, so I decided to just combine the past two weeks into one post again. 

Advent Activities 

We have simplified our Advent a little bit for this year. Instead of trying to manage one Jesse tree for each child, we printed only one for the family. We also received five sticker Advent calendars in the mail from a friend, but we're only using one this year. The three older girls take turns coloring the Jesse Tree ornament, putting the ornament on the tree, and putting the sticker on the Advent wreath. Then we do a short prayer service based on this Jesse Tree Prayer and Litany. Each week, we are singing a different Advent hymn. First, we did Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence, and then Oh Come Divine Messiah. We also pray the Christmas Anticipation Prayer 15 times each morning. 

For the first time, we also have an Advent wreath this year. We light it after dinner and say the Advent prayer for that week from The Catholic All Year Prayer Companion. We finish by singing O Come O Come Emmanuel in English and Latin. 

On November 28, we went to the Advent Family Festival at the Shrine of St. Anthony. On December 5th, we went to breakfast with Santa at our parish. On December 6th, the kids woke up to shoes filled by St. Nicholas and we sang O Who Loves Nicholas the Saintly.

Morning Time 

Poems: From Favorite Poems Old and New, edited by Helen Ferris (Doubleday Books, 1957), I read aloud: "Marjorie's Almanac" by Thomas Bailey Aldrich, "Prairie-Dog Town" by Mary Austin, "Goody O'Grumpity" by Carol Ryrie Brink, "Villagers all, this frosty tide" from Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame,  and "The Kitten at Play" by William Wordsworth. 

Music: We started reading Peter Tchaikovsky and the Nutcracker Ballet by Opal Wheeler, and we listened to the pieces included in the text: 

Art Appreciation: In 100 Masterpieces in Color (Hamlyn, 1972), we studied The Annunciation by Fra Angelico and Madonna of the Meadow by Raphael. We also watched the Smarthistory video about The Annunciation.  


First Grade: C. and I read two sections from Builders of the Old World: In the Hall of Truth and A Great Queen. Then we read Hatshepsut: His Majesty, Herself by Catherine M. Andronik and watched two videos: Hatshepsut Temple and Obelisk and Hatshepsut, The Woman Who was King. She also watched two more parts of BBC's Egypt from 2006. 

Third Grade: M. finished The Puritan Revolution by Walter Hodges (Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, 1972) and has moved onto The World of William Penn by Genevieve Foster, in which she read the first section, about William Penn. 

Science (and Health)

We started BFSU Lesson B-9, How Animals Move IV - Energy to Run the Body. We discussed how the respiratory, digestive, circulatory, and urinary systems help the body use energy and eliminate waste, and watched a variety of videos: 

C. asked about how her voice box works, and she watched a video about the larynx and colored a diagram of its part. 

M. and I read the chapter about hair care in The Care and Keeping of You Volume 1. She also went to the orthdontist to get her lip bumper put in, and she has been learning about caring for her teeth and her orthodontic appliances. 

E. did her Under the Sea Koala Crate. 


C. read Philomena by Kate Seredy, Did You Carry the Flag Today, Charlie? by Rebecca Caudill, Lester and Mother by Myra McGee, and Henry and the Paper Route, as well as Very Merry Christmas Tales (Scholastic, 2004) and Here Come the Holidays (Scholastic, 2005). She started writing a thank you letter to her godmother for her St. Nicholas gift. 

M. finished Puritan Adventure by Lois Lenski. She started Tumtum & Nutmeg: Adventures Beyond Nutmouse Hall by Emily Bearn, which was a birthday gift from Grandma. She also wrote thank you notes for her birthday gifts.  

E. read Dog Bug, Mutt and Pup, Pig Fun, Rag Gets Wet, and Ann's Big Muffin. Now she is working on Tim the Truck

At lunch, we read The Genie of Sutton Place by George Selden. At dinner, the read-aloud was Little Pear and his Friends by Eleanor Frances Lattimore. 

Typing and Handwriting 

C. and M. both did typing daily. Their handwriting practice was primarily writing thank yous.


C. started learning Christmas songs in ASL from We Play Along: O Little Town of Bethlehem, The First Noel, I'll Be Home for Christmas, and Little Drummer Boy


C. worked on multiplication and division in Singapore 2A. M. worked in Challenging Word Problems. Both girls did Khan Academy some days, but they need to get back to a better routine. 

Instrumental Music

M. and C. both practiced piano and recorder every day. 


The girls colored the words "hope" and "love" for the first two weeks of Advent. R. and A. colored pictures of Santa. C. also made the "unicorn world" M. gave her for her birthday. 

Monday, December 6, 2021

Read-at-Home Mom Report: November 2021 Wrap-Up

My Month in Books

I read 14 books in November, most of which were three-star audiobooks I listened to on breaks from writing for NaNoWriMo. 

Here is the full list: 

Geekerella by Ashley Poston (3 stars)
I found this book at Dollar Tree on one of those rare occasions when they actually had books. It's a Cinderella retelling involving a fictitious fandom similar to Star Trek. It was a quick, fun read.

 Bowman of Crécy by Ronald Welch (4 stars)
My husband and I have a friend we met on Goodreads and we meet with her monthly on Zoom to talk books. This month, we talked about this second title in the Carey family series by Ronald Welch. The characters are outlaws and  the story involves a lot of fighting with bows and arrows. I wouldn't have picked it up on my own, but it wasn't bad. 

Vision in White by Nora Roberts (3 stars)
I read this book and its sequels when they were first published and decided to re-read this one on audio. It was still entertaining, but I dropped my rating from 5 stars down to 3. 

Autumn Skies by Denise Hunter (3 stars)
I borrowed this Christian romance from the library in paperback, but I listened to most of it on Hoopla. It was an easy read, but not too memorable. It is part of a series, and I would be interested in reading the other books. 

The Girl Who Ruined Christmas by Cindy Callaghan (1 star)
I received this middle grade ARC from the author, and I was surprised by how disappointing it was. The writing was rough and the story barely made sense. The characters also used a lot of slang that made them sound unrealistic. I can't recommend this one. 

Sebastian Bach: The Boy from Thuringia by Opal Wheeler (4 stars)
This was one of our homeschool read-alouds. We read the book and listened to the musical pieces included. I didn't know much about Bach before, and I think this was a great introduction. 

To Sir, with Love by Lauren Layne (4 stars)
This was basically a retelling of You've Got Mail. I loved all the details of the New York City setting, and the characters were well-developed. 

The Dearly Departed by Elinor Lipman (4 stars)
This was kind of a quirky story about two adults who don't know they are siblings until their parents, who recently reunited romantically, die together of carbon monoxide poisoning. It wasn't what I expected at all, but it was a fun read anyway. 

Scarpetta by Patricia Cornwell (3 stars)
I'm trying to get through the rest of this series by the end of 2022. This one was fine. Not remarkable, but still entertaining. 

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (5 stars)
This was my first time reading this book since I was in high school, and it holds up so well! I love the author's sense of humor, and it was fun to revisit this universe. 

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann (3 stars)
I read this for the #WorldFullOfBooks theme of Indigenous Peoples, but I really wasn't in the mood for it and my mind really wandered. I honestly can't remember a thing about what actually happened. 

Killer Research by Jenn McKinlay (5 stars)
I took a long break from cozy mysteries this year, but I never miss a new installment in this series. This was one of the best of the series in my opinion. The small-town politics were so believable, and I love the way the characters continue to evolve, even 12 books in. 

The Happy Camper by Melody Carlson (3 stars)
This was a light, sweet Christian romance about a woman who refurbishes an old camper and connects with a new love interest while fending off advances from her ex-boyfriend.

The Christmas Swap by Melody Carlson (4 stars)
I am finding myself drawn to the idea of novellas, and this was a short and sweet one to kick off my holiday reading. I'm definitely interested in reading more by this author. 

As for the rest of the family's reading...

In November, my husband read Summer of the Monkeys by Wilson Rawls, This New Land by Clifton G. Wisler, The Galleon by Ronald Welch, and The Luckie Star by Ann Waldron (this last book is being donated based on how little he enjoyed it). 

M. (8, years) also read This New Land by Clifton G. Wisler, as well as The Man Who Was Don Quixote by Rafaello Busoni and The Adventures of Don Quixote by Leighton Barret and illustrated by Warren Chappell. She also read A Donkey Called Mistletoe by Helen Peters.
C. (6 years, 2 months) finished reading King Oberon's Forest by Hilda van Stockum. She also read Runaway Ralph by Beverly Cleary and The Marvelous Land of Oz by L. Frank Baum independently, and aloud to Gran over Skype she read Three Boys and a Lighthouse by Nan Agle and Ellen Wilson. 

E. (4 years 1 month) read a bunch of Hooked on Phonics readers:  Sam and the Mitt, Pop Fox, The Fog, Pom Pom, The Big Log, and Tub Fun, as well as some selections from The Ultimate Dick and Jane Storybook Collection

 R. and A. (20 months) enjoyed looking at Up Cat Down Cat and Black Bird, Yellow Sun, both by Steve Light. 

Up Next For Me

December has started off with a bit of a reading slump for me, but I need to read 15 books to meet my goal by the end of the year. I'm planning to read The Gift Counselor by Sheila M. Cronin, So This is Christmas by Tracy Andreen (thought after I bought it I did hear there is some content in it I would prefer to avoid), Ornamental Graces by Carolyn Astfalk, and Gifts: Seen and Unseen from Catholic Teen Books, as well as Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien for book club and The Galleon by Ronald Welch. 

Linking Up

Friday, December 3, 2021

New Picture Books for Christmas 2021

It's December, which means the Christmas books are out on our shelves, just waiting to be read! We have several new additions to our collection this year, which I will highlight today.  Every title mentioned in this post was sent to me for review from the publisher, except the Tomie dePaola titles and Jan Brett's The Nutcracker, which were purchased by my mom. 

First up is a book I received for review over at Catholic Mom, where it will be the subject of my December article. It's called The Night the Saints Saved Christmas, written by Gracie Jagla and illustrated by Michael Corsini (Our Sunday Visitor). I'll save most of my thoughts for that piece, but I will say that the idea of saints jumping in to help Saint Nicholas deliver gifts on Christmas Eve is a really clever concept, and it's the best approach to the "Santa has a crisis and can't deliver the gifts" trope that I've ever read. 

Another book I received for review is a cute interactive pull-tab book called Deer Santa, which is written by Hannah Eliot and illustrated by Kathryn Selbert (Little Simon). On each page a different sweet little animal asks for a special gift. Each one holds an envelope with a tab that can be pulled out to reveal a message to Santa that matches the qualities of that animal. (The skunk's message, for example, reads, "Jingle smells!") Because of the delicate tabs, I'm not giving this to my toddlers; my four-year-old will enjoy it, and she will be much more careful with it! 

We have several different versions of Twas the Night Before Christmas, but I couldn't resist this one illustrated by P.J. Lynch (Candlewick). The soft, dark pictures create the perfect Christmas Eve ambiance, filled with a hushed anticipation as we await the arrival of Santa. Santa himself has an ethereal quality that is very appealing. His expression as he eyes the narrator just before filling the stockings is one of the best single images of Santa Claus I have ever seen. It infuses him with such personality and impishness, turning him into the "right jolly old elf" described in the text. This is a beautiful book worth owning even if you already have several versions.

We also have a lot of versions of the Biblical Christmas story on our shelves, but The First Christmas illustrated by Will Moses (Paula Wiseman Books) is different because the text is the lyrics to O Little Town of Bethlehem. I love a good singable Christmas book and this one just jumped to the top of my list for a Christmas story time. The folk art style illustrations are also unique in our collection, and I love that Moses's paint strokes are visible, and that there is so much to look at on each page. I also like the realistic Middle Eastern setting that is the backdrop to each painting, and the joy the artist depicts on the face of each figure in his illustrations. This is just a lovely book. 

We also have two new Jan Brett books on our shelves.  In The Animals' Santa (Penguin Young Readers), a young snowshoe hare is excited to learn that, on Christmas Eve, the Animals' Santa will leave presents for him and his all his woodland neighbors. But who is the Animals' Santa? All the creatures speculate, imagining which species would be best suited to the job - in the end, they witness a special delivery and learn who truly has the task of  delivering their gifts. I love the way this story parallels the experience of real preschool kids at Christmastime - the anticipation, the questions about how exactly the magic works, and the joy of discovering their gifts on Christmas morning. I also love the idea of animals having their own Santa and their own Christmas traditions. 

The Nutcracker is a retelling of the beloved holiday ballet in which the dancers Marie and the Nutcracker encounter on their sleigh ride are portrayed as animals. Every spread is a feast for the eyes, with many details to pore over, including clothes, festive decorations, the features of various creatures, and a host of musical instruments. There are some problems with the way certain figures hold and play their instruments - something we are sensitive to with a former music teacher in the family - but this is somewhat forgivable given the fact that animals in the illustrations would not even have opposable thumbs in real life. 

The Cat on the Dovrefell by Tomie de Paola has been re-released this year with the 1979 illustrations and brand-new text. This is a Scandinavian folk tale about Halvor, who tricks the trolls into staying away from his house at Christmas by scaring them with his "cat," which is really a polar bear. The most entertaining part of the book is the wordless spread of the trolls wreaking havoc. The original text, which I listened to on YouTube, seems to have been more wordy and complex; the new text isn't necessarily bad, it's just simpler and probably easier to read aloud to younger audiences. Depending on how things work out for my Christmas-themed story time this year, I may add this to the repertoire. 

There are two more recently released Christmas-themed Tomie dePaola titles as well : a new edition of Jingle the Christmas Clown, in which a circus clown provides a holiday performance for a town that is too poor to have Christmas and Christina's Carol, the text of which is the words of "In the Bleak Midwinter" by Christina Rossetti. 

Finally, Nosy Crow has two new board books. Jingle Bells  by Nicola Slater is a vibrantly illustrated version of the popular song featuring woodland animals in winter clothes. The last page of the book has buttons to press, one of which plays music, and the other of which lights a yellow star atop a Christmas tree. Where's the Polar Bear? by Ingela P. Arrhenius is a lift-the-flap book where the flaps are made of durable felt. The imagery in the illustrations is generically wintry, but the color scheme and the presence of pine trees gives it a strong Christmas mood. 

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Homeschool Update: Weeks of 11/15/21 and 11/22/21

I fell a bit behind on taking homeschool notes, so for this one I've combined two weeks. 

Morning Time

Music: We watched performances and visual interpretations of several Bach pieces: 

Singing: We learned to sing "All the Pretty Little Horses" and "Over the River and Through the Woods."

Poems: From Favorite Poems Old and New, edited by Helen Ferris (Doubleday Books, 1957), I read aloud: "A Song of Sherwood" by Alfred Noyes, "Come, Little Leaves" by George Cooper, "The Fairies" by Rose Fyleman, "The Modern Hiawatha" by George A. Strong,  "First Thanksgiving of All" by Nancy Byrd Turner,  "The Embarrassing Episode of Little Miss Muffet" by Guy Wetmore Carryl, and "When Young Melissa Sweeps" by Nancy Byrd Turner.

Art Appreciation: In 100 Masterpieces in Color (Hamlyn, 1972), we studied The Annunciation by Simone Martini, Les Tres Riches Heures: April by Pol, Hennequin, and Herman de Limbourg, and The Merode Altarpiece by Robert Campin. We watched Smarthistory videos about the Martini and Campin works. 


First Grade: C. and I read some of Life Long Ago: Ancient Egypt, but it was way more detailed than what we need at this stage. We switched to Life in the Ancient World by Bart Winer, (Random House, 1961) and read about daily life in Ancient Egypt instead. C. completed this worksheet about the Nile and she watched a BBC video entitled Egypt from 2006. 

Third Grade: M. finished The World of Captain John Smith by Genevieve Foster after reading these sections: 
  • Enter Cardinal Richelieu
  • Broken Promises
  • La Rochelle and the Huguenots
  • New France Again
  • On the Way to China
  • Inside the Great Wall
  • Japan's Closing Door 
  • In and Out for Christian IV
  • John Winthrop of Groton Manor
  • Neighbors, New Amsterdam and Plymouth
  • Velazquez
  • Velazquez Sees Rome
  • Galileo's Final Visit to Rome
  • Gustav Adolf 
  • Plans for Massachusetts
  • John Smith Is Not Invited
  • Governor Winthrop
  • Pilgrims and Puritans
  • The Bell Tolls 
Then she started The Puritan Revolution by Walter Hodges (Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, 1972). She is also reading Puritan Adventure by Lois Lenski. 


First and Third Grade: We worked on BFSU Lesson A-9: Matter IV - Dissolving, Solutions, and Crystallization. We added various substances to water to see if they were or were not soluble. We also left some salt water out so the water could evaporate, but it took several days for it to evaporate and leave salt crystals behind. We also watched some YouTube videos: 

Preschool: E. and I read a few pages from the National Geographic Little Kids' First Big Book of Animals. Afterwards, she asked to see some real animals, so she watched Cheetahs 101  and Zebras Risk Their Lives to Reach This Place Every Year from Nat Geo Wild. 


C. read The Marvelous Land of Oz by L. Frank Baum. To Gran she read Three Boys and a Lighthouse by Nan Agle and Ellen Wilson. 

E. read Pop Fox, The Fog, Pom Pom, The Big Log, and Tub Fun. She started working on reading words with a silent E in The Ordinary Parents' Guide to Teaching Reading

M. read This New Land by G. Clifton Wisler. 

We started reading aloud the final play in Three Children and Shakespeare, which is The Taming of the Shrew. We finished A Light in the Forest on audio and I started reading aloud The Genie of Sutton Place by George Selden. At dinner, Daddy finished reading Polly and the Wolf

M. and C. worked in their Mad Libs grammar workbooks. 

Typing and Handwriting 

C. did typing daily. M. has completed all of the typing exercises she can do with a Chromebook keyboard. C. practiced cursive daily. M. needs to get back to cursive.


C. continued to practice Over the River and Through the Wood in ASL and started learning Jingle Bells. She also watched the We Play Along ASL letter videos for I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P, Q, R, and S. 


M. continued working on Challenging Word Problems 3. C. finished the another review section in Singapore 2A. C. also worked on addition and subtraction with renaming on the soroban. Both girls did chapters from Life of Fred. 

Physical Education 

All the girls rode bikes on several of the warmer days. They also did some dancing. 

Instrumental Music

M. and C. practiced piano and recorder daily. 


All three girls made homemade birthday cards for me. They also glued felt turkeys, made Thanksgiving sticker collages, and colored some Thanksgiving coloring sheets.

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Reading Through History: Away Goes Sally by Elizabeth Coatsworth (1934)

Away Goes Sally
is a vintage children's historical fiction novel about a New England family living just before the War of 1812. Sally's home is filled with relatives: some of whom, like her Uncle Joseph, want to accept Uncle Ephraim's invitation to settle in Maine and some of whom, like Nannie, would prefer to stay in their own home. When Uncle Joseph finds a way to transport the entire house to Maine in order to satisfy everyone's wishes, Sally is along for an exciting ride through wilderness and harsh wintry conditions. 

I read this short novel aloud to my kids this past spring, and it was a pleasant and enjoyable story. My girls really enjoyed the story of the journey, and the logistics of moving a house during this time period. I found myself wishing for a little less exposition at the start of the book and more time spent on the actual travel, but that was really just a matter of personal preference. 

The really nice thing is that this story reveals a lot of details about what it might have been like to live during this time period, not against the backdrop of a major historical event, but in the context of one family's major decision to move to a new place. The reader is pleasantly immersed in the world of the early 1800s without being bogged down by the political, military and social concerns that often dominate historical fiction.

We read this book for fun, and not to accompany a specific lesson, and it worked perfectly for us. Kids who are reluctant to read historical fiction (as I was as a child) might be persuaded to look upon it more kindly after reading a light and entertaining story like this one.  Elizabeth Coatsworth is, in general, the perfect author to turn to for historical stories filled with believable everyday people and their experiences.

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Homeschool Update: Week of 11/8/21

Weekend Activities, 11/6/21-11/7/21 

On Saturday, we went to a couple of used bookstores and ate McDonald's hamburgers in the car for lunch. On Sunday, we went to the Latin Mass as usual. 

Morning Time

Music: I finished reading aloud Sebastian Bach: The Boy from Thuringia by Opal Wheeler and Sybil Deucher, and we listened to the remaining pieces referenced in the text: 

Singing: We continued working on "Praise My Soul the King of Heaven." 

Poems: From Favorite Poems Old and New, edited by Helen Ferris (Doubleday Books, 1957), I read aloud: "When Mother Reads Aloud," "Little Charlie Chipmunk" by Helen Cowles LeCron, "The Deer" by Mary Austin, and "Pocahontas" by William Makepeace Thackeray. C. recorded her video recitation of "My Shadow" by Robert Louis Stevenson and is now memorizing "First Thanksgiving Of All" by Nancy Byrd Turner. E. recorded her recitation of "If I Had a Cardboard Box" by Aileen Fisher, and is now going to learn "November" by John Clare.

Art Appreciation: In 100 Masterpieces in Color (Hamlyn, 1972), we studied Entry in Jerusalem from Duccio's Maesta, and then we watched the Smarthistory video about the back of the Maesta, where Entry in Jerusalem is located.

Catechism: We finished reading I Believe in God. M. and C. have both memorized the Apostle's Creed. We also practiced singing Ave Maria in Gregorian chant. 


First Grade: C. continues to love Ancient Egypt. We caught up on our reading in Builders of the Old World, and she did a few pages in her Sticker History book. She also watched Tutankhamun's Treasures and Ancient Egypt 101 from National Geographic and  Ancient Egyptian Boat Museum - The Khufu Solar Ship from Prowalk Tours, and I read aloud Muti's Necklace by Louise Hawes.

Third Grade: M. covered these sections in The World of Captain John Smith by Genevieve Foster: 

  • The Mayflower Sails 
  • Anchored at Plymouth
  • Indians and Thanksgiving
  • Trouble in Bohemia
  • Of Kings and Brides
  • Massacres, Indian and White
  • Hugo Grotius
  • A Painter Goes to Paris
  • Buckingham Finds a Bride for Charles


First and third grade: The girls watched two more vintage Disney nature films: White Wilderness and Perri: The Youth of a Squirrel


C. finished Runaway Ralph. M. continued reading The Man Who Was Don Quixote by Rafaello Busoni and finished The Adventures of Don Quixote by Leighton Barret and illustrated by Warren Chappell. She started reading This New Land by G. Clifton Wisler. E. read Pop Fox. 

E. worked on words beginning and ending with SH in The Ordinary Parents' Guide to Teaching Reading and also read some Dick and Jane. 

We finished the Julius Caesar portion of Three Children and Shakespeare

We continued listening to A Light in the Forest by Conrad Richter during lunch. 

M. and C. did a few pages in their Mad Libs grammar books.

Typing and Handwriting 

Both girls did typing and practiced cursive most days.


C. continued to practice Over the River and Through the Wood in ASL. She also watched the We Play Along ASL letter videos for D, E, F, G, and H. 


M. continued working on Challenging Word Problems 3. C. finished the Weight unit in Singapore 2A and started another review section. C. also worked on addition and subtraction with renaming on the soroban. Both girls did a chapter from Life of Fred. 

Physical Education

The girls rode their bikes several times. We had an afternoon playdate on Friday at the Adventure Playground. 

Instrumental Music

M. and C. practiced piano and recorder daily. 

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Homeschool Update: Week of 11/1/21

Weekend Activities, 10/30/21-10/31/21 

This weekend was Halloween, and we did our usual traditional Halloween activities. On Saturday, the girls gutted a pumpkin, and my husband carved a face in it. On Sunday, we went to Mass, and afterwards, we dressed up all the kids. M. was an evil queen, C. was a magician, E. was a clown, R. wore an owl mask, and A. wore a witch hat. We also ate donuts and some candy and drank apple cider.  

Morning Time

Music: I continued reading aloud from Sebastian Bach: The Boy from Thuringia by Opal Wheeler and Sybil Deucher, and we listened to these pieces referenced in the text:  

Singing: Our hymn for this week was Praise My Soul the King of Heaven. 

Poems: From Favorite Poems Old and New, edited by Helen Ferris (Doubleday Books, 1957), I read aloud: "Lake Isle of Innisfree" by William Butler Yeats, "Hiawatha's Childhood" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and "A Little Song of Life" by Lizette Woodworth Reese. 

Art Appreciation: In 100 Masterpieces in Color (Hamlyn, 1972),  we looked at The Lamentation Over the Dead Body of Christ by Giotto. We compared it to Lamentation over the Dead Christ by Niccolò dell'Arca. We also watched the Smarthistory video about the Giotto painting.

Catechism: We continued learning to understand the Apostle's Creed using I Believe in God by Lawrence Lovasik.  On Monday, we prayed the Litany of Saints. On Tuesday, we prayed the Litany for the Holy Souls in Purgatory and the prayers for All Souls Day from The Catholic All Year Prayer Companion. We also watched the All Saints Day and All Souls Day videos from Brother Francis on Formed.


First Grade: C. continued learning about Egypt. We started reading aloud Pharaoh's Boat by David Weitzman. Independently, she read Tutankhamun's Gift by Robert Sabuda. She also watched the video adaptation of Pyramid by David Macaulay and then spent some time looking at the book. She watched a Pyramids of Giza Walking Tour on YouTube as well. 

Third Grade: M. covered these sections in The World of Captain John Smith by Genevieve Foster. 

  • In Memory of Shakespeare
  • Pocahontas in England
  • The Law vs. the King?
  • Raleigh's Last Adventure
  • The House of Burgesses
  • Servants and Slaves
  • They Knew That They Were Pilgrims
  • John Smith, Unhappy Admiral


First and third grade: This week's BFSU lesson was supposed to be D-6 Seasonal Changes and Earth's Orbit, for which we were meant to be doing data collection since last fall. The level of data analysis the curriculum calls for is far beyond anything that would interest either M. or C. so it ended up being a good thing that we didn't really keep up with the record keeping. Instead of doing what the lesson prescribes, we watched Seasons from Earth Rocks and Earth's Orbit, Rotation, Seasons and Moon from High School Science 101. Then M. and C. watched two Disney productions: The Living Desert and The Vanishing Prairie, to review the last few lessons we have covered.


C. finished King Oberon's Forest and started reading Runaway Ralph. M. continued reading The Man Who Was Don Quixote by Rafaello Busoni and The Adventures of Don Quixote by Leighton Barret and illustrated by Warren Chappell. E. started working on sounding out the words in Sam and the Mitt.  

E. continued to practice beginning blends in The Ordinary Parents' Guide to Teaching Reading. This week she focused specifically on words beginning and ending with SH. 

We continued reading the section Three Children and Shakespeare about Julius Caesar. 

We began listening to A Light in the Forest by Conrad Richter during lunch. 

Typing and Handwriting 

Both girls did typing and practiced cursive most days.


C. started learning Over the River and Through the Wood in ASL. She also started working on the letters of the alphabet in ASL as well, also using videos from We Play Along. She covered letters A, B, and C


M. continued working on Challenging Word Problems 3. C. worked on the Weight unit in Singapore 2A. C. also worked on addition and subtraction with renaming on the soroban. Both girls did a chapter from Life of Fred. 

Physical Education

The girls rode their bikes daily. 

Instrumental Music

M. and C. practiced piano and recorder daily. 

Thursday, November 4, 2021

Homeschool Update: Week of 10/25/21

Weekend Activities, 10/23/21-10/24/21 

On Saturday, the girls rode bicycles and M. went on a bike ride with Daddy. We made a birthday video for Grandpa's sister Aunt V. and attended the Latin Mass on Sunday. 

Morning Time 

Music: I continued reading aloud from Sebastian Bach: The Boy from Thuringia by Opal Wheeler and Sybil Deucher, and we listened to these pieces referenced in the text:  

Singing: We practiced singing When the Saints Go Marching In.  

Poems: From Favorite Poems Old and New, edited by Helen Ferris (Doubleday Books, 1957), I read aloud: "There Are So Many Ways of Going Places" by Leslie Thompson, "Autumn Fancies" by Anonymous, "Vegetables" by Eleanor Farjeon, and "The Wonderful World" by William Brighty Rands, 

Art Appreciation: In 100 Masterpieces in Color (Hamlyn, 1972), we looked at Saint Mark from the Cathedral Treasury, Trier, and The Crucifixion (unknown painter, before 1339) from the British Museum.  

Catechism: We continued learning to understand the Apostle's Creed using I Believe in God by Lawrence Lovasik.  Saint Stories for Kids put out a week of episodes featuring "spooky" saint stories, and we listened to all of those as well.  


First Grade: C. and I read most of The Great Pyramid by Elizabeth Mann and all of Mummies Made in Egypt by Aliki. She also watched the Reading Rainbow episode featuring the Aliki book, and did some coloring pages of Khufu and Osiris and Set. On Friday, C. decorated a Kiwi Crate box covered in paper to use as a sarcophagus. She wrapped one her dolls in a white scarf like a mummy and colored a paper mask to put over her face. Then she dressed up in a costume and black wig and she and her sisters processed through the house, taking the mummy to her tomb. 

Third Grade: With Daddy, M. read these sections from The World of Captain John Smith by Genevieve Foster:  

  • A Synagogue in Amsterdam
  • At Home in Leyden
  • (The Telescope (1608))
  • Galileo and the Planets
  • Henry IV is Dead
  • Galileo in Rome (1611)
  • French Missionaries in Canada
  • Pocahontas Is Married
  • The Royal Couple
  • King Gustav Adolf
  • Russia's New Tsar, Michael Romanov (1613)
  • The Naming of New England 


First and Third Grade: We finished BFSU Lesson B-7: How Animals Move II: Different Body Designs; Major Animal Phyla. I showed M. and C. video from the library's website called  Animals 101: Animal Atlas and Invertebrates - Sponges, Worms, Mollusks, Arthropods, Echinoderms. 

Pre-K: E. and I read about weather phenomena in National Geographic Little Kids First Big Book of How. 

C. also did her Mirror Illusions Kiwi Crate.   


M. and C. finished all their thank you notes. 

C. continued reading King Oberon's Forest. She also read the first two books in the Lulu series by Hilary McKay. M. continued reading The Man Who Was Don Quixote by Rafaello Busoni and The Adventures of Don Quixote by Leighton Barret and illustrated by Warren Chappell. She also read Cody and the Fountain of Happiness by Tricia Springstubb. We finished our read-aloud of Anna Witch. 

E. continued to practice beginning blends in The Ordinary Parents' Guide to Teaching Reading

We started reading the section Three Children and Shakespeare about Julius Caesar. 

Typing and Handwriting 

M. and C. wrote their thank you notes in cursive. Both girls did typing most days. 


C. continued working on learning two Halloween songs in ASL from We Play Along: It's Halloween and 10 Little Jack-o'lanterns. She also watched a series on the same channel of signs for household objects.


The girls made Halloween decorations from foam shapes and we hung them in the front window. 


M. continued working on Challenging Word Problems 3. C. worked on a review in Singapore 2A. C. also worked on addition and subtraction with renaming on the soroban. Both girls did a chapter from Life of Fred. 

Physical Education

Almost every weekday, the three girls rode their bikes before dinner. 

Instrumental Music

M. and C. practiced piano and recorder daily. 

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Read-at-Home Mom Report: October 2021 Wrap-Up

My Month in Books

October was my best reading month of 2021 so far. I read 20 books, and the vast majority of them were four or five star reads. 

Here's the full list: 

The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazlewood (4 stars)
I listened to this STEM-themed romantic comedy on Scribd, and truly fell in love with the characters. I also enjoyed the academic setting, and I appreciated how angry the author was able to make me with the behavior of her antagonist. I was a bit troubled by the explicit nature of the sex scenes, but I was able to skip past them on the audiobook without really sacrificing any of the plot. I would have given this five stars had there not been so much sex. 

The Halloween Moon by Joseph Fink (4 stars)
The book club that I participate in on Instagram chose Spooky as its October theme, and this was the first spooky title I read. I had a physical ARC from the publisher, but also listened to part of it on audio. It's about a girl whose parents think she is too old to trick or treat. She sneaks out anyway, but then becomes involved in saving her entire town from the queen of Halloween. It was an entertaining story and there was nothing objectionable in it at all. 

Very Sincerely Yours by Kerry Winfrey (5 stars)
It's extremely rare for me to select one title as my favorite book of the year, but it's happening with this adorable contemporary romance. The main characters are a woman who works in a toy store and a man who hosts a children's television show a la Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, and the plot has a similar feel to You've Got Mail. I can't remember the last time a book made me so happy. Even before the library ebook expired, I had ordered myself a copy in paperback. I will absolutely be reading this book again.

Tatsinda by Elizabeth Enright (3 stars)
This fairy tale was a read-aloud with my kids. I read a few chapters, my husband read a couple, and then we finished it on audio. It was fine, but I didn't love it like I love this author's realistic fiction. 

Ludwig Beethoven and the Chiming Tower Bells by Opal Wheeler and Sybil Deucher (3 stars)
This vintage middle grade book was the spine for our homeschool music appreciation for this month. It's a solid introduction to the life and music of Beethoven.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (5 stars)
This was my second spooky read of the month, and I absolutely loved it. It's suspenseful and intriguing, but not truly scary, at least for me. The writing was fantastic, and I'm definitely going to pick up more books by this author.

Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry (5 stars)
A few of my friends from my Catholic women's book club are also in a Well Read Mom book club, so they were reading Jayber Crow and suggested it for our group as well. It took me longer to get into this one than Hannah Coulter, which I loved, but the ending was really powerful and well done. I think this is the kind of book that requires a re-read, and I will most likely read it again someday. 

Storm Front by Jim Butcher (4 stars)
This is the first book in the Dresden files series, and I have read it before, but it was years ago. I picked it up this month as my third spooky read, just to see if I still liked it and wanted to try the series again. It was great, and I do plan to continue and hopefully catch up at some point. 

Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny (4 stars)
It just felt like the right time to read another Louise Penny. I listened to this one on audio because I didn't have a copy, and it was more enjoyable than the previous Gamache title, though I still have some issues with some of the characters' behavior. I'm still not sick of the series, though, and it seems likely that I will get caught up by the end of 2022. 

The Ex Hex by Erin Sterling (4 stars)
My fourth spooky read was this fun witchy romance novel that again could have been five stars if not for the sex scenes. I understand that the sex scenes are a convention of the genre, and I have adapted to just skipping them in order to enjoy the rest of the story. What bothered me in this book was that there was frank discussion of male and female anatomy throughout the book, even when there was nothing sexual happening in the story. It was just too much, even though I loved the fall atmosphere and the two main characters.

 Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell (4 stars)
I enjoyed this collection of chapters about the women of a small Victorian English village. It was equal parts funny and poignant and I found it much easier to read than Jane Austen, even though I have heard this book recommended to Austen fans. I am realizing that while I don't like Austen herself, I do like the things that other people who like Austen enjoy. Though I never actually posted about it anywhere, this was intended to be my pick for Victober.

Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder (4 stars)
I was doing some preparation for NaNoWriMo and I saw this recommended as the best way to learn about story beats. The idea of hitting certain beats in a work of fiction really makes sense to me, and it helped me figure out what I wanted to write this November. Even though this book is about screen writing, it really is applicable to all forms of fiction that involve plot. 

The Light of Caliburn by Jake Frost (4 stars)
Barb from Franciscan Mom recommended this to me, and even arranged for me to receive a review copy. It's a fantasy story involving Merlin, written from a Catholic perspective. I am not a fantasy person in general, but I devoured this book. It was just so intriguing and such a quick read.

100 Days of Sunlight by Abbie Emmons (5 stars)
Abbie Emmons has a YouTube channel where she gives writing advice, and after watching a bunch of her videos, I decided to actually read her book. It's a YA romance about a boy who is a double-amputee and a girl who has gone temporarily blind. I listened to the audiobook, which is narrated by the author, and I was really impressed with the character development and structure. I'm looking forward to the Christmas-themed sequel that just came out. 

Predator by Patricia Cornwell (3 stars)
I'm back in the saddle with the Scarpetta series. I've decided the easiest way to read them is to switch back and forth between print and audio. This one was more interesting than the last two or three books of the series have been, and I feel a renewed motivation to catch up on the series now that a new book is being released for the first time in five years. 

The Ex Talk
by Rachel Lynn Solomon (5 stars)
I listened to this romantic comedy set in the world of public radio, and I loved it. I wasn't even bothered by the subtle digs the author made toward white men because the particular white male antagonist in this story was a true villain. I loved the two main characters and the fresh take on the fake relationship trope. There was sex in this, but it was easily skippable and didn't slide into other areas of the book, which is why I still gave it 5 stars.

Long Road to the Circus by Betsy Bird (5 stars)
I don't read a lot of new middle grade because I'm sick of politics in kids' books, but this historical fiction novel set in the 1920s had such a great voice and made me laugh quite a bit. If all things were fair, this book would win the 2022 Newbery. I will have a review of this one coming soon. 

Anna Witch by Madeleine Edmondson (2 stars)
This short vintage middle grade book was my Halloween read-aloud with my girls. It was cute, but there wasn't a lot of substance to it, and I think it's probably better for the kids to just read it on their own in the future. 

The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury (5 stars)
I've never read a Ray Bradbury book I didn't love, and this one was so perfect for the end of October. It's a fantasy tale about a group of boys traveling through the history of Halloween in order to save the life of their friend, Pipkin. It was so atmospheric and I think it would make a great read-aloud for grades 6-9. 

Book of the Dead by Patricia Cornwell (4 stars)
This Cornwell was better than Predator, and it's the reason I'm going to continue on with the series. 

As for the rest of the family's reading...

My husband finished The Bowman of Crecy by Ronald Welch and is almost finished with Summer of the Monkeys by Wilson Rawls. 

M. (7 years, 11 months) read Cody and the Fountain of Happiness by Tricia Springstubb, which I borrowed from the library for her, and she started reading two children's versions of Don Quixote: The Man Who Was Don Quixote by Rafaello Busoni and The Adventures of Don Quixote by Leighton Barret and illustrated by Warren Chappell. (The latter of those she is reading aloud to my mother-in-law during Skype calls.)

C. (6 years, 1 month) finished reading 26 Fairmount Avenue by Tomie dePaola to my mother-in-law and started Three Boys and a Lighthouse by Nan Hayden Agle and Ellen Wilson. She also read the first two titles in the Lulu series by Hilary McKay and is now reading King Oberon's Forest by Hilda van Stockum. 

E. (4 years) has been listening to me read More Milly Molly Mandy Stories. She also enjoyed paging through our stash of Halloween books, and she especially loved Pumpkin Jack, which I borrowed from the library.  

R. and A. (19 months) have been fighting constantly over First 100 Trucks by Roger Priddy. They also like our new board books: Here Comes Fall! written by Susan Kantor and illustrated by Katya Longhi and Boo Baa La La La by Sandra Boynton. 

Up Next For Me

I'm doing NaNoWriMo this month, so I'm not sure yet what my reading is going to look like. My in-person book club is reading Our Lady of Fatima by William Walsh for our discussion on the 11th, and I'm listening to Killers of the Flower Moon by Daniel Grann for #WorldFullofBooks on Instagram, the theme of which is Indigenous People for this month. I'm also listening to Vision in White by Nora Roberts, which is a re-read and I have three library books coming due soon: The Happy Camper by Melody Carlson, To Sir Philip, with Love by Julia Quinn and Autumn Skies by Denise Hunter. I also have a lot of Christmas reading planned and might think about getting a head start on that in the latter part of the month. 

Linking Up